Giuliani associate flips on Trump, says he threatened Ukraine to investigate Biden or lose aid

After firing ex-Trump lawyer John Dowd, Lev Parnas is ready to testify he threatened Ukraine on Giuliani's orders

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published November 11, 2019 12:40PM (EST)

Lev Parnas (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Lev Parnas (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Lev Parnas, one of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associates in his months-long expedition to find dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, appears to have flipped on President Donald Trump and Giuliani in the ongoing impeachment investigation.

Parnas was instrumental in Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine before he was indicted for allegedly illegally funneling foreign money to U.S. politicians, including a $325,000 contribution to a pro-Trump super PAC. He initially hired former Trump lawyer John Dowd to represent him and refused to comply with impeachment investigators. But after Trump claimed not to know Parnas, despite appearing with him at numerous events, the Giuliani associate had a change of heart. He fired Dowd and agreed to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, his new attorney, Joseph Bondy, told reporters last week.

On Sunday, Bondy revealed to The New York Times that his client has a lot to say.

Parnas claims that he told a representative of new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May that he had to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, or the administration would freeze military aid allocated by Congress and Vice President Mike Pence would not attend his swearing-in, Bondy told The Times.

Parnas is willing to share his account with impeachment investigators, Bondy added. The claims contradict the Trump administration’s claims about the events surrounding what Trump advisers have described as an effort to extort Ukraine into investigating the Bidens while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and directly link Giuliani to the threat, which he has denied. The claim also suggests that Trump not only withheld aid and a long-sought Oval Office meeting with Zelensky to pressure the government into launching the investigation, as aides have testified, but also threatened to pull Pence from Zelensky’s inauguration.

Igor Fruman, a business partner who was indicted alongside Parnas, denied his associate’s claims. Fruman, who still employs Dowd as his attorney and continues to stonewall the impeachment probe, acknowledged that the meeting happened but denied that they ever mentioned aid or Pence.

Giuliani also denied that he directed Parnas to deliver the threat.

“Categorically, I did not tell him to say that,” said Giuliani, who himself is under investigation by federal prosecutors over his dealings with Parnas and Fruman.

The meeting in question brought Giuliani’s Ukrainian expedition to the public spotlight. Giuliani bragged that he was planning to go to Ukraine to press the new government for investigations that would help Trump in May, before canceling the trip after blowback and claiming that he was being “set up.”

But despite Giuliani backing out, the meeting went ahead without him. Parnas and Fruman met with Serhiy Shefir, an aide to Zelensky, at an outdoor cafe ahead of the new president’s inauguration. Bondy told The Times that the men issued the threat to Shefir during that meeting. Dowd said that Fruman denied delivering any ultimatum and Giuliani denied that he ever “authorized such a conversation.”

A statement from Shefir “did not directly address” Parnas’ claims about the ultimatum regarding aid and Pence, The Times reported. Shefir claimed that the men took the meeting to press for Zelensky to meet with Giuliani.

“We did not treat Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman as official representatives, and therefore we did not consider that they could speak on behalf of the U.S. government,” Shefir said.

Bondy rejected Shefir’s account of the meeting.

“It would simply defy reason for Mr. Shefir to have attended a meeting with Mr. Parnas if he did not believe Mr. Parnas spoke for the president, and also for Mr. Parnas not to have conveyed the president’s message at this meeting,” he told The Times.

Pence ultimately did not attend Zelensky’s inauguration. Pence’s office told The Times that it informed the Ukrainians that he would not be attending a week before the event.

Parnas and Fruman later helped connect Giuliani with Ukrainian officials who fed him information on Biden, and lobbied then-Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tex., to urge Trump to oust then-Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who Giuliani believed was interfering with his efforts.

Parnas regularly appeared with Trump at events and paid Giuliani $500,000 through his company, Fraud Guarantee. After vowing not to cooperate with the impeachment probe, he told The New Yorker last month he “loved” Trump. I fully support him and honestly think he is going to go down as probably one of the greatest ⁠— if not the greatest ⁠— presidents ever,” he said at the time.

But Parnas had a change of heart and agreed to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry after Trump claimed that he did not know him.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” Bondy told The Times last week, adding that he is now “willing to comply with the subpoena.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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